Ryan Nelson is a physical specimen in every sense of the word. At 6’4 and 245 lbs of rock solid muscle, the guy carries a measly 5% body fat, moves like a basketball player half his size, and has the power of a horse. He has dominated collegiate and professional football, and is now setting his sights on the world of completive bodybuilding.
He is also an incredibly friendly guy and a proud vegan.
Street Narrative recently caught up with Ryan to get the full story on how a “meat and potato” bred star football player from Wyoming has reemerged as a plant-fueled beast ready to take the bodybuilding world by storm.
Ryan was born on May 19th, 1988 in Sheridan, WY. A diligent worker and gifted athlete, Ryan attended Big Horn High School where he excelled in track, basketball, and football. He enjoyed his greatest success on the field, and was awarded MVP Sheridan County, All-State & State All-Star player—attracting the attention of the University of Mary in Bismarck, ND, who offered Ryan a full-ride football scholarship
After four years in Bismarck, Ryan was then invited to Fairbanks, Alaska to play professionally in the IFL (Indoor Football Leage) for the Fairbanks Grizzlies.
Ryan looks back at his days in Alaska as some of his finest. His achievements with the Grizzlies include blocking two kicks in one game, being awarded player of the game, and just ten games into the season he was promoted to team captain.
Unfortunately, Ryan’s momentum came to a screeching halt following a following a major hamstring injury, and he was forced to take some time away from football.
While recuperating, Ryan made the decision to finish up his last few credits at Bismarck, and earned his BA in sports management.
Amid his collegiate football career, Ryan met Jessica, a health major, and instantly knew he wanted to be her boyfriend. While Ryan was determined to win her over, Jessica was not as gung-ho to enter into a relationship, and the courting process would prove to be an exercise in patience for the young athlete. Though he was initially turned down, Ryan remained persistent, and the two stayed in touch following his move to Alaska.
“After almost five years of chasing her around she finally agreed to be my girlfriend,” he says with a laugh.
After a year of long distance dating, Ryan joined Jessica in Crystal, MN—where she is completing her doctor of chiropractic, and began a new career in personal training.
Jessica had struggled with digestive issues throughout her childhood and adolescence. In an effort to address this problem she began eliminating likely allergens from her diet—starting with wheat and gluten. While she saw improvement with this modified diet, she began researching the health benefits of plant-based nutrition, and decided to go vegan. Jessica’s digestive issues disappeared almost immediately, and she felt more energetic than she had in years—she knew that this would be a permanent lifestyle change.
Still embracing a “meat and potatoes” diet, Ryan was skeptical of his partner’s dietary choice, but eventually couldn’t argue with her results.
“I am an open minded guy, and even though I was observing her diet from a biased stand-point, like many of us have, I just saw her doing so well. On the Sunday right after Thanksgiving (2012) I decided to go vegan cold turkey.”
Not only did Ryan adopt a plant-based lifestyle, but he dived head on into the 80-10-10 diet—eating almost entirely raw and greatly cutting back his protein intake. While he made some modifications to the 80-10-10 blueprint, adding in some cooked foods like rice and beans in at evening meals, he still only took in as little as 70-90 grams of protein daily, and at times was eating as many as forty bananas in one day.
He has since added a slightly higher amount of fat and protein to bolster recovery from his intense training—eating somewhere in the neighborhood of 50-60% carbs, 20-30% fat, and 20% protein—give or take, but he is still only consuming 180-200 grams of protein daily at 235 pounds—far less than the 1-2 gram per pound of bodyweight rule religiously practiced by most in the bodybuilding community.
“When I get the ‘where do you get your protein, bro?’ question I always say my 160 grams is equal to your 320 grams. I believe plant protein is much more absorbable than animal protein, which I think is very low quality. Take kale or spinach—there is only 1-4 grams of protein a serving, but it is about 90% absorbable to the body.”
On his transition to veganism:
“Any diet is a lifestyle—healthy or unhealthy. The first month or two it was hard knowing exactly what to eat, but now eating awesome vegan food all the time is just normal.”
“I walk around year around at about 5% body fat. Three weeks after going vegan I was at about 4.25%, and my muscle index was exactly the same. When you are already in such low digits that is almost a 25% drop in body fat with zero loss of muscle. That’s when I was like ‘holy crap this is really good stuff!’”
Staples of Ryan’s diet include fresh greens, fruit, lentils, nuts, rice, oats, garbanzo bean flour, hemp protein powder, flaxseed and buckwheat flour—which he loves to utilize for protein-packed pancakes.
Ryan’s love for vegan cooking is always on full display as he posts his delicious concoctions daily to Instagram and Facebook. The interest garnered has been so positive that he and Jessica have decided to release a cookbook in the near future filled with some of their favorite raw dishes and vegan comfort food creations (Check out the bottom of this article for Ryan’s “Rawnola” recipe!).
Ryan’s successful transition to veganism motivated him to inspire others to chase their own goals on a plant-based diet, and he has devoted his athletic passion to bodybuilding. Ryan’s goal is to prove that a compassionate and cruelty-free lifestyle can also build massive muscles—a goal fueled further by a friendly rivalry.
Ryan will be making his bodybuilding debut at the NPC Upper Midwest Bodybuilding Championships in Fargo, ND on March, 22 2014—Josh Evans, one of his competitors in the light heavyweight division, is an old friend and collegiate training partner—as well as one of Ryan’s most devout haters.
“Josh has given me a hard time ever since he found I went vegan. Even after coming out here to train and seeing how strong I am, he is still criticizing my diet, so I am definitely motivated to come in incredible shape and prove him wrong.”
On Contest Diet Prep:
“Off season I shoot for 5500-6000 calories a day, now I am taking in about 3500, but still eating very comfortably. Calorie tracking is something I have to get more disciplined on, but minor adjustments like not eating after eight or nine o’clock at night, and cutting back a little bit on fruit and grains have made a huge difference.”
“I am taking a kind of old-school approach to this particular contest—cutting back a little bit on carbs (though still getting about 50% of his daily diet from carbohydrates), and adding in a little bit more fat and lean protein sources like tofu, tempeh, and ‘chicken-less chicken.’ In the future I would like to do a contest on a high-fruit, high-carb 80-10-10 diet.”
On His Contest Training Program:
Ryan’s training regimen both on season and off is simple and gritty. He blends traditional bodybuilding movements in the 8-12 rep range with drop-sets and burnouts, but also incorporates the Westside Barbell lifts that were instrumental to his explosive power in football.
“I train for bodybuilding, but I also want strength and athleticism that I can apply to real-life situations.”
Ryan lifts four days a week with a chest/shoulders, back/arms, deadlift/hamstrings, and squat/quads split on most weeks.
Ryan’s favorite lift is the deadlift, because as he puts it “after deadlifting heavyweight you feel the biggest you ever have in your life, and there is nothing like it. You just have to do it to know the feeling.” That rush has catapulted him to a personal best pull of 605 lbs.
In terms of cardiovascular conditioning, Ryan keeps it even simpler. Five to six mornings of the week he will get on the treadmill and walk at an upward incline for about fifteen minutes—something he says he does primarily to strengthen his calves: “I think the incline treadmill is a great way to make the calf muscles pop, and I need all the help I can get there.”
After his treadmill work Ryan does twenty to thirty minutes of abdominal core work.
Ryan’s Secret Weapon:
While Ryan’s dedication to exercise and nutrition has been paramount to building his incredible physique, he believes that the biggest key to his success is what he is doing outside of training.
“I start every morning by saying a prayer, meditating, and drinking a big glass of lemon water—this gets my day going great. Once a week I see both a chiropractor and an acupuncturist. Natural medicine is an amazing thing, and I think that is what gives me a huge advantage, because most guys out there are not doing this stuff.”
Ryan is dead-set on showing the world that a plant-based lifestyle is optimal for building muscle, but he also wants to be a role model and inspiration for the people closest to him, and right at the top of that list are his clients. Ryan is incredibly dedicated to his personal trainees, and often wakes up as early as 4:30 am to ensure he can train anyone no matter their schedule.
Ryan empathizes with his clients, and knows that if they push themselves hard enough they will see the results they are after.
“Any awesome, super tough workout I have my clients do I have already done myself. I will never have anyone do something that I have never used successfully myself. By doing this bodybuilding contest, I want my clients to see that our program really works, and that they can do it too.”
However, Ryan’s role model figure extends beyond his intense training at Lion’s Gym, and for the past two years he has participated in the Big Brother program—spending several hours every weekend with at-risk children in need of mentoring.
“These are kids that maybe got themselves into trouble or come from broken homes, but I try to show them that they are capable of pursuing anything they set their minds to. I had one fourteen year old kid who loved working out with me, and after the year we spent together his biceps grew like 2 inches—something he was super psyched about at his age to impress girls and stuff, (laughs).”
In the immediate future Ryan is focused on competing in Fargo on March 22th, and then in his own backyard at the Gopher State Classic held in Minneapolis, MN on April 5th, but he believes that a long career in bodybuilding is ahead of him.
“After getting into this sport and seeing what is all about I am hooked, and definitely see this as a lifelong career.”
If Ryan’s determination and success rate thus far serve as any indication, conquering the world of competitive bodybuilding should be no sweat for this compassionate brute.
• 1 full sliced apple
• 1 serving pea or hemp protein
• 1 date
• 1 tablespoon peanut butter
• 1 tablespoon coconut flakes
• 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
• dash of vanilla extract.
Pulse in food processor until you have nice oatmeal-like texture. Optional flax, coconut, or almond milk over the top.